Arko network meets, Upama Pokharel, arguably the first Nepali female basketball player to play for a foreign university team…currently back home on holiday.
Upama Pokharel made a name for herself as one of the top players in the higher secondary school girls’ basketball in Kathmandu winning numerous accolades with Saipal Academy before earning a scholarship abroad. Her admirers, both coaches and players, labeling her as playing like a boy (comparing the level of skill).
She is currently an undergraduate student of sports psychology at the Sunway University in Malaysia. With her own admission, the scholarship had a lot to do with her athletic ability as much as her academic qualifications. No wonder she has quickly established a place in Sunway University women’s basketball team.
She said the level of basketball is so much better in there (Malaysia)…saying that most girls play like boys. Despite the choice of many good basketball talents, she has gone on to feature in the starting lineup in more than half of the matches this year.
Upama said, “there is no such thing as a best five there”, hinting the number of player options the coaches have at her current team.
“We get picked based on the situation…who the opponent is and what the team needs, to play against them”, she added.
Here is transcript of some of our conversation (no fun facts, just strictly basketball related):
Arko: What was your first game like (with Sunway Uni)?
Upama: We were playing against a tough opponent. I was nervous and worried. Also, everyone in the team spoke Chinese which I didn’t understand. I needed a translator. But we won in the end.
Arko: What difference did you see from basketball in Nepal?
Upama: The level of game is very different. Players are physical and most of them (girls) play like boys. Training facility is indoor and we mostly train in the evening, sometimes lasting till late at night.
Arko: Since there is so many good players, competition (to get in the team) must be tough.
Upama: Yes, but I was able to.
Arko: Did you play any basketball while you are on holiday?
Upama: Just the one friendly match in Pokhara. Played for Saipal Academy (her former team) against Kaski District team.
Arko: What did you miss the most while in Malaysia?
Upama: Photo sessions after winning… with trophy and medals (laughs). Saipal Academy won (KCM Basketball Bash) soon after I left as well.
Afterwards, in our informal chat Upama told us that she wants to work right here in Nepal once she is done with her education. Putting any fears of her staying abroad like so many Nepalese, to rest. Fans, expect to see her in the Nepali basketball circuit for good in a few years.